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Giveaway in Glendale: Anatomy of a defeat

Seattle Seahawks v Arizona Cardinals
Phil Dawson’s two missed FGs were one of many factors that led to Sunday’s loss.
Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

Four games, four losses.

Not even the most pessimistic of fans could have predicted this start. After four weeks, the Redbirds are the only team in the league without a win. We’re 0-3 at home, where we’ve protected the nest in recent years, and we’ve scored a piddling 37 points total—that’s right, less than 10 points per game.

Shameful. Inexcusable. Indefensible.

It’s hard to fathom how we wound up here, especially considering that we had the ball on 1st and 10 at the Seattle 31 with 2:59 to play and the Seahawks down to one timeout. All we had to do was get a single first down and we could grind down the clock and kick a chip shot FG to win the game.

Instead, we… did not do that.

Like last week, some poor play on the field was compounded by some seriously boneheaded coaching decisions, and the crowd at State Farm Field was let down once again. Let’s run through the most impactful factors/moments that led to the loss, figure out who’s to blame, and see if there’s any hope moving forward.

Offensive Run Defense

Sunday had a chance to be a get-right game for the Redbirds run defense. Seattle’s O-line woes are well documented, their starting RB Chris Carson was a late scratch, and their 1st-round rookie Rashaad Penny (brother of Elijhaa) hasn’t done much. Enter third-stringer Mike Davis, who proceeded to run for 101 yards and 2 TDs on 21 carries. Adding in contributions from Penny and Russell Wilson, the Seahawks put up 171 yards on 34 carries (5.0 YPC). The Cardinals are now 31st in the league in rushing defense—after finishing 6th last season.

Assigning the Blame: The Cardinals have talent in the front seven—Cory Peters has been a rock, and the team has spent recent 1st-round picks on the likes of Robert Nkemdiche, Deone Bucannon, and Haason Reddick. Talent isn’t the problem—it’s scheme. These are 3-4 players trying to adjust to the Carolina 4-3 (when we’re not in nickel, that is) of Steve Wilks and Al Holcomb. The scheme obviously isn’t working with the personnel we have, so it’s on the coaches to adapt. And they simply haven’t thus far.

Where to Go from Here: Wilks and Holcomb need to adjust their scheme to the talent of the players of the roster. Consider moving Bucannon back to a hybrid safety role, let Reddick rush the passer more (he had a sack on Sunday), and maybe stop playing so much nickel on obvious rushing downs.

A Bad Case of the Drops

It wasn’t all bad news for the Redbirds on Sunday, as rookie QB Josh Rosen passed the eye test and earned strong reviews for his debut start. His numbers were somewhat pedestrian—15/27, 180 yards, and 1 TD—but they could have been much better if it weren’t for all the drops. Stalwart Cardinals writer Darren Urban estimated that Rosen’s numbers would have been about 20/27, 261 yards, and 2 TDs if Larry Fitzgerald(!), Christian Kirk, J.J. Nelson, and Ricky Seals-Jones had held onto several catchable balls. (Plus there was the near-TD by Chad Williams where he was just unable to get a second foot down on the sideline.) The Redbirds WR room has been a known weak spot, and they let the team down big-time on Sunday, costing us precious yardage and, potentially, points.

Assigning the Blame: It’s easy to blame the players on the field—yes, even Fitz—but GM Steve Keim deserves a ton of blame for not doing more to augment the position during the offseason—or even during the season. (Rishard Matthews is available, after all.) Plus, it’s worth pointing out that on a day where J.J. Nelson was doing this for the Cardinals, John Brown was doing this for the Ravens.

Where to Go from Here: J.J. Nelson probably needs to be cut at this point. Keim needs to do what many of us who play fantasy football do on Sunday mornings—scour the free agent list for a WR and hope they can produce.

Kicker Woes

It seems like points are always at a premium in Cardinals/Seahawks games, and Sunday was no exception. You can’t have your kicker miss two FGs in these kinds of games and expect to win. Granted, neither of them were gimmes (45 and 50 yards), but didn’t we stick with Dawson because he’s a steady veteran? He didn’t play like one on Sunday.

Assigning the Blame: Obviously, Dawson should be expected to hit the potential game-winning 45-yarder, but it shouldn’t have been that long of a kick, which is firmly the coaching staff’s fault (more on that below). But you can also argue that Dawson shouldn’t have been kicking in the first place. It doubly hurts knowing that preseason star Matt McCrane hit a game-winner for the Raiders later Sunday afternoon. Yet another Steve Keim decision that didn’t work out.

Where to Go from Here: Dawson probably needs to go too. He just doesn’t have the leg strength/accuracy required of an NFL kicker anymore. This was obvious even in the preseason. Keim needs to find a stopgap replacement for the rest of the season and then address the position in the offseason.

Another Questionable 3rd-Down Run

Simply put, the coaching staff completely bungled the endgame on Sunday. As I said above, we just needed to gain one first down on our final possession. That would have accomplished two things: 1) it would’ve made the would-be game-winning FG much easier, and 2) it would’ve let us drain most of the clock down to prevent Russell Wilson from doing exactly what he did—march down the field for the win if we missed the kick.

It started with that 1st and 10 with 2:59 left. We got a Mike McCoy special: unimaginative run into the pile. Then on 2nd and 8? You guessed it—another unimaginative run into the pile. But the worst playcall came after the two-minute warning—just like it did last week. With all that time to call the perfect play—remembering again that we had to have a first down—we got… yep, another unimaginative run into the pile. At least it was David Johnson getting stuffed this time. Small consolation.

Keep in mind that Rosen was 4/5 for 39 yards on the drive up until that point. If you can trust your rookie QB enough to put him into a tight game in the 4th quarter last week, you can trust him enough to put the ball in his hands in a tight game in the 4th quarter this week, right? One completion and you can drain the clock down and kick a 35-39 yard FG (instead of 45) to win.

Instead… unimaginative run into the pile, Russell Wilson gets two minutes to gain 30 yards, and Sea Bass kicks the game-winner. Ugh.

Assigning the Blame: Mike McCoy makes the offensive playcalls, but Steve Wilks says he can “veto or confirm” any playcall. However the decision to run it up the middle on 3rd and 6 at the Seattle 27 was made, it was a lousy decision and the buck stops with the man in charge—Steve Wilks. Whether he confirmed McCoy’s call of the run or just declined to veto it doesn’t matter. It was the wrong call and it cost us the game. At this point, I wish he’d just veto Mike McCoy entirely, to be honest.

Where to Go from Here: Fire. Mike. McCoy. I’m gonna keep saying it until it happens.

Final Thoughts

Sunday’s loss was the result of several of our players being put in a position to fail by our GM/coaching staff, and the one player who could have saved the game—Josh Rosen—not being given the chance to do so. It’s that simple.

It’s not just the 0-4 start, but the way it has happened—these last two weeks especially—that has many Cardinals fans wondering if we have the right leadership on the sidelines and in the front office. But Steve Keim just signed an extension, and Steve Wilks and his staff are in their first year on the job, so we may be stuck with them for a while.

They, like our players, need to respond in the right way to this adversity. Before the Bears game, I wrote about how the Cardinals have been plagued by passivity lately. That proved true against the Seahawks with the way known weaknesses (WR, LB, K) came back to bite us and the way the coaching staff screwed up the endgame with overly conservative decisions.

We’ll learn a lot about our leadership by the way they respond. If McCoy, Nelson, and Dawson continue to have jobs, if we don’t try to bring in reinforcements, if we continue to struggle to score points and stop the run, if we continue to be passive… we’ll have learned that these are not the men to lead our franchise.

But if we do something to try to change our fortunes—even if it just amounts to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic—I think most Cardinals fans would feel a little bit better about the direction of our team. Cold comfort to be sure, but better than the hot air these guys have been blowing so far.